Wood’s Word: One day, small-market baseball . . . one day . . .
There are few things more enjoyable and relaxing in life than being able to sit down with people you like to watch a long, strategic baseball game. Baseball is full of history, statistics and records, and every game provides an opportunity to write a new chapter in the continuing story of baseball, no matter where you are.
That is, unless you are a fan of a small-market team.
The term “small-market” refers generally to the bottom third or fourth on the list of teams’ overall annual payroll. The list, over time, has been rather unchanging.
According to USA Today, the bottom third of the 2012 MLB payroll included the following teams (with payrolls ranging from $55,000,000-$78,000,000): (1) San Diego Padres, (2) Oakland Athletics, (4) Kansas City Royals, (8) Toronto Blue Jays and (9) Colorado Rockies.
Some of the teams in the top third of the list included the following (ranging from nearly $200,000,000-$110,000,000): New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Detroit Tigers, San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Of the top 10 teams, four of them currently hold each of the positions as contenders in both the American League Division Series and the National League Division series. Eight of the last 10 World Series winners have come from the teams with the top 10 annual payrolls.
The statistics simply speak for themselves. The teams with the highest payrolls generally have the most World Series appearances. The New York Yankees (a team occasionally dubbed “the Evil Empire”) top the list of both payroll and World Series appearances with a number around 40.
It is, however, difficult to justify any reason as to why a team wouldn’t spend available money if it were a possibility. When a team wins, it earns more money. When it earns more money, it wins. This is America, after all, is it not?
Despite the usually nationwide fanbases of the sport’s biggest franchises, there is still hope for the teams who are making the very most for their money. My best friend is a faithful San Diego Padres fan (bottom of the payroll). My brother and sister-in-law fervently support the Colorado Rockies. And I am sure there is a living person somewhere who has seen a Kansas City Royals game.
There is one team that continues to be a bit of an anomaly. The Oakland Athletics have reached the MLB postseason for seven of the last 13 years, despite being second-to-last on the list, having an annual payroll of only about $55,000,000 — about $140,000,000 less than the Yankees.
Some wonder how the Oakland Athletics manage to have the success they do with such a small payroll. The recent film Moneyball has portrayed a small example of how the Athletics have been able beat the odds and achieve winning seasons despite their disadvantage. The film showed the instance of an underdog team centered on effective management and strategy that was able to build momentum and carry itself into the postseason.
Good front-office leadership and coaching is certainly a factor. What may be overlooked is the fanbase backing up the Athletics.
The Oakland Athletics have arguably the best fanbase in baseball, and the support is shown through the positive momentum the team traditionally displays. This year, for example, the Athletics were 13 games out of first place in the American League West Division on June 30. As they slowly crept up the standings, going rather unnoticed, the Athletics found themselves five games out of first place with only nine days left in the regular season. Miraculously, however, after an eventful final week of the season, the Athletics took hold of first place in the AL West on the final day of the season.
Although the Athletics were recently eliminated early in 2012 postseason play, the fans, who stuck with them from being 13 games out of first at the end of June, left the Athletics after their final loss of the postseason with a standing ovation — a deserved “thank you” and farewell until next season.
Like my friend, my brother and sister-in-law, and the Kansas City fan, we see the fans of the underdogs pushing their teams along and providing true personality to the game. Money can buy talent, but it can’t buy heart.